Can Anxiety Make You Physically Sick?
Have you ever noticed that you tend to get sick more when you are feeling stressed and wondered why? Well hopefully we can answer some of those questions today!
Symptoms of anxiety
When you become anxious, your body believes you are in danger and it activates the fight or flight response. This causes a number of different reactions to occur in your body. Your heart will beat faster so blood is carried quicker to your brain and muscles, you breathe faster so your muscles get more oxygen, your vision is narrowed to decrease distractions, your muscles tense to prepare for quick action, cortisol & adrenaline are released to increase alertness, your bladder relaxes, and digestion slows. These changes may cause you to experience symptoms of illness including feeling light-headed, faintness, upset stomach, vomiting, dry mouth, muscle tightness, fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, and overall soreness. All of that can make you feel pretty unwell! But anxiety can do even more.
Anxiety and Illness
Another thing that Cortisol does to your body is to depress your immune system. When Cortisol is released, another function that it has is to reduce inflammation in the body which decreases your risk of becoming seriously injured. It does this by decreasing the number of some antibodies in your blood stream. Because of this, you are more likely to catch something that will make you physically ill like the common cold, the flu, or even Covid.
The Effects of Chronic Anxiety
Another thing to consider is the effects that chronic anxiety has on our bodies. Scientists and doctors have long known that the effects of having your fight or flight activated for long periods of time can make you more likely to experience chronic illnesses. These include: hypertension (high blood pressure), digestive disorders, short-term memory loss, CAD (coronary artery disease), heart attacks and depression.
Does this Mean that We Should Avoid all Stress?
Absolutely not! Some stress and anxiety is normal and is actually good for you. Are you surprised? A little bit of stress can help you to perform important tasks better. It can motivate you to be better prepared. And anxiety can act as a warning that something is happening in your life that you need to pay attention to. Consider some examples…
You have a big test on Monday and are pretty nervous about it so instead of going out with your friends all day Saturday, you stay home and study, which earns you a good grade on the test.
You have a job interview this week at the company you’ve been dreaming about working at since you first learned about them. You’re feeling anxious, so you spend a few days researching the company and what projects they’re working on. During your meeting, the interviewer asks you what you know about the company and you feel completely confident in what you know.
Now you’re dying to tell me that your stress and anxiety doesn’t help you, but rather it debilitates you and keeps you from reaching your goals. And if your anxiety or stress is too intense, then it can definitely decrease your performance rather than improving it. The secret is have just enough to motivate you, but not too much to incapacitate your cognitive functioning and decrease your performance. This next section will give you some suggestions to keep your anxiety and or stress at a manageable level.
Lifestyle Changes for Anxiety Management
There are several different things that you can try to manage your anxiety on a daily basis. These include:
1. Maintain a balanced diet making sure to include lots of fruit and veggies and to stay hydrated.
2. Get your 7-8 hours of sleep every night!
3. Exercise! Exercise has been proven to be effective in reducing anxiety and depression in people and it doesn’t even matter which exercise you do.
4. Relaxation. There are any number of ways that you can incorporate relaxation into your daily life. Try yoga, or meditation. Maybe some deep breathing exercises. If you know me at all, you know how much I love deep breathing! Or try a relaxation app like Calm or Head Space.
5. Go out into nature and for bonus points, get some sun into your daily life. This will not only increase your vitamin D production, but it will also help to reduce stress. But through a glass window does not give you the same effects, so step outside and get it direct!
So although stress and anxiety can get you sick, there are steps that you can take to minimize your risks. And as always, if you’re having trouble managing your symptoms and would like some anxiety treatment, please follow the link for more info or to contact me. Thanks!